Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

Sweet on beets

These double-duty (you can eat the tops and bottoms!) veggies have become a harvest staple

Related to both spinach and Swiss chard in the amaranth (Amaranthaceae) family, beets are both a root crop and a leafy green, a dual purpose, space-saving vegetable ideal for the home garden. Because they transplant poorly, beets are always started from seeds sown directly in the garden; and the first thing to know about the pellets rolling out of the seed packet is that they are not individual seeds; rather, each is a cluster of two to five seeds encased in a rough round husk, or fruiting body. From each of these husks emerges a tight little cluster of seedlings, which makes early thinning necessary.

As a root crop, beets thrive in rich, well-worked loam, fed with compost, deeply dug or tilled, and raked to a fine texture free of large rocks or clods of clay. Sensitive to pH, beets need fairly sweet (alkaline) soil, in the range of 6.8 to 7.8 on the pH scale, so if you have acidic soil, an application of garden lime, along with a natural granular fertilizer rich in minerals, is helpful. As always, an intensive bed is better than several skinny single rows separated by wide paths. To seed, draw out a series of parallel furrows, about 2 centimetres deep, and a hand-span (15 to 20 centimetres) apart, and drop husks in singly, one every 2 or 3 centimetres. Cover, water and watch.

Once beets are on their way, and thinned initially to stand about 5 centimetres apart, the rest is usually smooth sailing. Steady moisture is important: a twice weekly soaking in the absence of rain. A monthly drink of fish emulsion or other liquid fertilizer may be necessary where the soil is lacking nutrients; or beets may be fed with a side dressing of granular fertilizer (for vegetables) sprinkled according to package directions along the rows, stirred gently into the soil and then watered down.

After the first thinning, leave beets to fill out and even touch. Once they look as if they might be big enough 
to eat, begin pulling every other one to be cooked whole, with the greens attached, as delicious baby beets. Those left in the soil will gradually reach full size and can be eaten at any stage along the way.


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